Ofsted should grade schools on their provision of online learning, former schools minister Lord Adonis has told the House of Lords.
In a debate on lifting the exemption from inspections of some Ofsted "outstanding" schools and colleges, Lord Adonis said Ofsted needed to play a greater role in assessing the quality of schools' online provision, adding that the regulator should publicise schools that had provided best for pupils remotely as an example of best practice.
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At the start of the pandemic, Lord Adonis said that "there should have been the expectation that schooling would continue as nearly as normal online – that didn’t happen at the beginning.
"The government has corrected that now by having continuous learning provisions that mean that where schools can’t continue physically...then there will be online learning.
"But at the moment, Ofsted is playing virtually no part in this process at all...It is producing some guidance and it is monitoring the performance of schools in online learning, but if we are going to be in this situation for many months then I don’t think that’s enough.
"Ofsted should be grading all schools not just giving advice; it should be grading them by the quality of their online learning," he said, adding that the inspectorate would be able to do this without needing to visit schools in many cases, although he said school visits for this purpose would be "perfectly appropriate".
"Secondly, it should be highlighting best practice for the provision of online learning away from school including the best practice in the use of IT, the provision of IT and the provision of wi-fi if that’s not available," he added.
Lord Adonis also said that Ofsted should name the best schools in the country "in terms of the provision of education during this pandemic so that other schools can imitate them because in my experience of education, imitating the best is the best way of levelling up".
In May, teachers were outraged by his suggestion that many schools were not providing "adequate online learning and support". In the debate today, Lord Adonis said he felt closing schools in March and April had been a mistake.
Lord Storey, the Liberal Democrats' spokesperson for education in the Lords, questioned whether private schools should also be inspected by Ofsted and drew attention to teachers' waning levels of trust in the inspectorate.
"The ISI [Independent Schools Inspectorate] monitors more than a thousand larger private schools, which the schools of course pay for themselves, and some might argue that’s a vested interest. Does the minister not think that now is the time for all schools, including private schools, to be inspected by Ofsted as well?" he said.
He added: "If you ask teachers about Ofsted, only 18 per cent of teachers – and by the way that includes teachers in 'outstanding' and 'good' schools – agreed that Ofsted was a reliable and trusted arbiter of schools, down from 35 per cent of schools the previous year. On these figures, if Ofsted were a school, would it be put into special measures?"